Jul 21, 2021 - COVID

Colorado won't require masks as Delta variant dominates

Illustration of a pattern of gray virus cells with one lighting up in red

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The more contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 is rampant in Colorado, but Gov. Jared Polis dismissed the need for new public health restrictions to stop its spread.

Why it matters: The variant first discovered in India now comprises 9 of 10 cases in Colorado, well above the national average.

  • Case counts increased more than 20% in two weeks and deaths recently topped 7,000, according to the New York Times tracker.
  • Elsewhere, cities like Los Angeles and Austin are requiring or recommending masking to combat the Delta variant.

In a briefing Wednesday, Polis said that he would only consider mask requirements or other similar health protocols if the state's hospital systems are at risk of being overwhelmed.

  • His administration also says Colorado students and teachers won't need to wear masks when they return to school, even as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends them.
  • Polis' stance is in line with federal recommendations at the moment.

What he's saying: Polis said the state is not "focused as much on positive cases," and instead looks at hospitalization rates.

  • The current level "is not a threat," he said.
  • He said 96% of hospitalizations for COVID-19 are people who are not fully vaccinated.

Flashback: Polis declared an end to the pandemic July 8, lifting most public health emergency rules.

Of note: Colorado hit the 70% adult vaccination mark by July 4, but uptake of the vaccine since then has been slow. The state is now at 71%.

  • The state is partnering with Walmart to offer $100 gift cards to those who get vaccinated at certain sites. And community colleges are offering scholarships to students who get vaccinated.

Yes but: Similar incentives, such as the state's $1 million sweepstakes, have not made a major difference in vaccination rates.


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